Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


QUE PESADILLA

Mexico recovered from a two-goal deficit and roared to a 4-2 victory over the United States to win the 2011 Gold Cup before a Rose Bowl crowd of 93,420 and secure a berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

  The win gave El Tri, which met the Americans in the two previous Gold Cup finals, a second consecutive CONCACAF championship and its sixth overall.  U.S. goals by Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan were cancelled out before halftime by Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado; Barrera put Mexico ahead for good in the 50th minute, and Giovani Dos Santos applied the clincher with a brilliant individual effort in the 76th.  [June 25]

Comment:  Kevin Crow, Dan Canter, Jeff Durgan, David Brcic, Winston DuBose, and Bruce Savage, and, later, David Vanole, Paul Caligiuri, Marcelo Balboa, Mark Dodd, even John Doyle. 

There was a time when the U.S. was known for turning out nothing but goalkeepers and defenders, starting with Bob Rigby, who didn’t even take up the sport until he was 15 and went on to help  the Philadelphia Atoms win the 1973 NASL championship.

Times have changed, and now the U.S. is so thin at the back that when it loses 32-year-old right back Steve Cherundolo to a left ankle sprain 11 minutes into Saturday’s game, it has to scramble its defense, moving left back Eric Lichaj to the right and inserting someone like Jonathan Bornstein on the left.   With that, goalkeeper Tim Howard could only watch the collapse of his overmatched buddies, Lichaj, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Boganegra and Bornstein.

At least the U.S. has been consistent over the past few years.  The pleasant surprise of this tournament was not a desperately needed defender but an attacker, young fella by the name of Adu.

Advertisements


AMERICA’S 5-FOOT-8, 160-POUND EMBLEM

Landon Donovan won an unprecedented seventh U.S. Player of the Year award in a landslide over runner-up Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey in balloting involving nearly 200 journalists nationwide.

Donovan, who first won the honor in 2002, attracted 403 points based on three for a first-place vote, two for second and one for third.  Bradley picked up 169 points and Dempsey 157.   The only other multiple winners in the 20-year history of the award– organized by the national radio show Futbol de Primera and until recently sponsored by Honda–are goalkeeper Kasey Keller (1999 and 2005) and striker Eric Wynalda (1992 and 1996).

The speedy attacking midfielder-withdrawn forward probably became a favorite for the 2010 award with his stellar play early in the year for Everton, but he cinched it by scoring in three of the USA’s four games at the World Cup, including the dramatic winner against Algeria in added-on time that put the Americans into the second round.  He then returned home and helped the Los Angeles Galaxy finish the MLS regular season with the league’s best record.  [January 5]

Comment:  Once dismissed by the Los Angeles Times as “the overrated Landon Donovan” following the first of his two attempts to make an impact in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen, later criticized for disappearing in this match and that, the USA’s all-time scoring leader in 2010 cemented his status as not only the face of the sport in this country but a face that some average Americans actually recognize.

This country’s first notable soccer player was, probably, Archie Stark, a Scottish-born center forward who dominated the original American Soccer League in the 1920s and was dubbed “The Babe Ruth of Soccer” by a young newspaper columnist named Ed Sullivan.   From the early ’30s, oldtimers fondly recall a ball artiste named Billy Gonsalves.  Fast-forward to the 1970s, when the NASL tried but failed to make league scoring leader Kyle Rote Jr. its All-American Boy, and the 1980s, when it succeeded, somewhat, in planting that title on New York Cosmos midfielder Rick Davis.   Since then, the country has produced several outstanding players, like Hugo Perez, Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna, as well as personalities like bohemian gladfly defender Alexi Lalas, the fiery goal-scorer Wynalda and teen-idol Cobi Jones. 

It has been said repeatedly that what American soccer needs is a superstar–whatever that means.  It is doubtful, however, that the general American public would appreciate the subtle skills of a Xavi, a Zidane, a Cantona, a Maldini.  An incisive pass, a simple swerve, a change of direction, an immaculate take-away:  all would be lost on a viewership peering in on soccer only occasionally.  Donovan, however, does what Americans understand, has a track record of doing so, and is comfortable before cameras and facing a horde of reporters in front of his locker. 

Donovan has asked for a respite after several months of play, so it’s unlikely that he will return to Europe any time soon and add to his credentials this winter.  As such, enjoy his reign as “That American Soccer Player.”  Certainly, no successor is on the horizon, and that puts the sport’s longterm future on the fickle U.S. pop culture front in doubt.

[Full disclosure:  One ballot went to Donovan, Bradley and Steve Cherundolo, who served the role of grown-up on the USA back line in South Africa.  At 31 and playing for the obscure Hannover 96, it’s doubtful that the smart, energenic Cherundolo will ever get the credit he deserves.]



TWO HAPPY BIRTHDAYS

A young, experimental U.S. National Team, defeated South Africa, 1-0, on a goal by substitute Juan Agudelo five minutes from time in a friendly at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

The U.S. starting lineup averaged only 10 1/2 caps, and four of coach Bob Bradley’s halftime substitutes were 20 years old or younger and making their international debut.  [November 18]

Comment:  No doubt Agudelo will still be celebrating his goal six days hence, when he marks his 18th birthday.  After all, the Colombian-born striker, set up brilliantly in the box by the Norwegian-born Mikkel Diskerud, is the youngest scorer in U.S. history, eclipsing Jozy Altidore.

A more impressive birthday boy, however, was U.S. right back Eric Lichaj, who turned 22 the day of the South Africa match.  Lichaj, whose parents were born in Poland and reared in America, earned his first cap as a sub in last month’s scoreless draw with Colombia, and he played a key role, along with goalkeeper Brad Guzan, in keeping the American net clean.

Lichaj turned in the kind of performance–smart, strong, creative and utterly cool–that was sorely missing at times on the U.S. back line during the Americans’ last stay in South Africa.  All this despite playing the last hour with a yellow card.  Best of all, he covered ground like a young Thomas Dooley, popping up deep in the South African end on a regular basis.

It was only one match, but Lichaj (pronounced “LEE-hi”) showed off the qualities that inspired Aston Villa to sign him when he was a University of North Carolina freshman.  He’s just now breaking into the Villains’ starting lineup, but with the venerable Steve Cherundolo due to turn 35 when the next World Cup rolls around, it is hoped that Lichaj will be doing same for the U.S. over the next couple of years.